“When am I ever going to have to know this?”
“What does this have to do with real life, anyway?”
I’m sure all of you instructors out there hear these questions all the time. And if you’re like me, many times you may not be able to give a good answer. Why do students sense such a disconnect between “school learning” and “what you really need to know”?
One reason for the disconnect is that much of what students need to succeed in today’s world often is not being taught, or at least fostered, in school. Collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking (the “Four C’s”) are part of a group of 21st Century Skills that are essential in higher education and to the workplace. Add to these the skill of problem solving, the need for fluency in using ever-changing technology for varied purposes, and the importance of self-direction in learning (as real life necessitates life-long learning), and you start to realize that traditional methods of teaching and learning won’t get the job done.
Challenge-Based Learning is a framework for education developed by New Media Consortium in conjunction with Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow. The framework incorporates standards-based learning within the context of real-world problem solving, in which technology is used to foster communication, collaboration, and creativity.
Here’s how Challenge-Based Learning works: First an issue of worldwide importance (the Big Idea) is identified and a problem is defined (The Essential Question). Next a Challenge, or Call to Action, is issued. After that, it’s up to the students to employ their critical thinking skills to formulate guiding questions, decide on guiding activities, and choose and use guiding resources to decide what specfic actions will result in a solution. In the Assessment phase, participants judge whether their actions truly solved the problem. The process concludes with a Student Publishing experience: students use video and other media to communicate their outcomes and record their reflections about the problem solving process.
Taking on a Challenge-Based Learning project may sound like a pretty daunting task. Where will you come up with your Big Idea? Read the news. Contact government officials. Local business, community, and university leaders could help with suggestions. A wealth of information is also available on the Challenge Based Learning web site.
How will you, as a teacher, know everything about the issue your students are addressing? That’s not your role, under the Challenge-Based Learning model—which instead assumes that instructors do not already have the solutions.
What if you aren’t adept at using all the technology involved? That’s OK: Challenge-Based Learning is built around the idea of collaboration for all participants. You can be a model to your students by collaborating with others who have the skills you lack.
Maybe you think you don’t have the necessary tools at your school for collaboration, communication, and creativity. Where hardware is concerned, consider borrowing as a type of collaboration. Many kinds of collaborative online workspaces are available and free to use, especially if they are utilized in education. For example, check out http://www.wikispaces.com/ and http://www.cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/, which also has free software for drawing, videos, slideshow, audio and more.
The point is, you don’t have to know everything. In Challenge-Based Learning, you just have to be a learner along with your students.
Allison Jones is a graduate student at The Ohio State University and a teacher at Lima City Schools.